You would have to say, so far the Blazers have taken care of business on this road trip. They have beaten the teams they were supposed to (New Jersey, Minnesota, Toronto w/o Bosh) with their only loss being an OT thriller against the Bulls. Three out of this four opponents were Eastern Conference opponents. Tonight, the Blazers return to playing meaningful basketball against an +.500 team in the Western Conference. The Blazers are currently in 8th place (35-27), three games ahead of the New Orleans Hornets (31-29) and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (30-29). This game has significance for now and down the stretch. As a team, anytime you can control your own destiny is a good thing. With a win tonight, Portland can create some extra separation between themselves and the Grizzlies, sending them more towards the John Wall Sweepstakes than the post-season. A loss puts Portland only one up on NO, Memphis and Houston in the loss column, meaning that three game separation is more smoke and mirrors than anything. It would also mean the Grizzlies won the season series 3-1 which I don’t know about you is just a tough thing to swallow. I can’t even believe I’m still writing about the Grizzlies as a playoff contender in March.
This is the 4th and final contest between these two teams. It’s hard to gather much from the previous three games because of intangibles: early in the season, Portland playing without energy, Portland was depleted, etc. It kind of feels like the Blazers have always face Memphis at a weird time this season. Well tonight, the Blazers face Memphis for once when they seemingly are rolling and healthy. The talent of the Grizzlies is no longer a surprise, this is a tough team to beat. On the flip side…February was not too kind to the Grizzlies as they took a fall from grace similar to the third week of talking to a girl you like. You know, when she starts showing she’s a little crazy and what not. They went 5-8 on the month and went from 25-21 to 30-29. This of course, was good news for Blazer fans. You know the Grizzlies are talented, there is no need to go through the personnel at great length. Their starting 5 is tough to deal with. Zach Randolph is having a career year and loves to stick it to the Blazers, when Rudy Gay is efficient he is unbelievably dangerous, Marc Gasol is a beast inside, OJ Mayo is the X-Factor and Conley runs the show.
(Sidenote, Randolph just dropped 31 and 25 on the Knicks in MSG. You think he’s not on some sort of revenge tour right now? *shudder*)
If you recall the Blazers last game against Memphis, they lost it for two reasons: Portland couldn’t defend on the inside (gave up 54 points in the paint, 14 offensive rebounds) and couldn’t score down the stretch. This of course was a game in which the Blazers played 7 guys as Rudy Fernandez and Nic Batum were out. In theory, this is one of the games where Marcus Camby should be able to make an impact. His presence and ability to rebound should hopefully make things a bit tougher on the Grizzlies than in January. Memphis is not a great half-court team unless you allow them to be. If you give up nothing easy, they tend to struggle. On the flip side if you let them get their heads up you’re in for a long night. Offensively, Portland has more weapons at their disposal. Despite their struggles, the mere presence of Batum and Fernandez changes the spectrum just as far as having more options. You could also imagine that Batum will make an impact on both ends of the floor. His ability to guard Gay or Mayo will be key. I’ll be interested to see how aggressive he comes out tonight after such a monster game.
One thing about tonight’s game more than any I can remember is that Portland just has to win battles if they want to win the game. They have to win the battle inside, guarding Memphis, not letting them get layups and easy buckets. LaMarcus Aldridge has got to win the battle against Zach Randolph. Roy has got to win the battle against Rudy Gay. OJ Mayo has to be contained. The Blazers have to be ready to fight those three, because you know they are going to get their shots up. This isn’t like an X-Factor, these guys are going to attack. All three guys attempt 15+ field goals a game. It’s on Portland to decide whether they are going to go 9-for-15 or 5-for-15. If Aldridge out-plays Randolph and Roy out-plays Rudy Gay, you have to like Portland’s chances. Even if it is just rendering one or both of those two inefficent, Portland has to figure it out. Now it is going to be a lot tougher with Randolph because of his ability to get to the free throw line. However, I really like Portland’s changes at bothering Rudy Gay. He’s had tough times against Portland all year and the Blazers need to hope that trend continues. In the three previous games, Gay is averaging 14.7 points and shooting 35.7%, way below his season averages of 20 points and 47% from the field.
Portland has a great opportunity tonight. A win will even the season series with Memphis, which is big in case of some sort of late season collapse or Grizzlies run. A win will also put Portland at 4-1 on a 5-game road trip which is nothing to shake your head at. I’m always content with ‘winning’ an extended road stretch, some 3-2 will smell good to me. 4-1 will be much better. We’ll see if the Blazers are ready for the challenge tonight.
Tags: Andre Miller Blazers Blazers Grizzlies Preview Brandon Roy Grizzlies LaMarcus Aldridge Marc Gasol Marcus Camby Memphis Grizzlies Nic Batum Portland Trail Blazers Rudy Fernandez Rudy Gay Zach Randolph